BASF is confident it can bring a canola oil to market with sufficient levels of the coveted long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA to make heart health claims by the end of the decade.
BASF is one of several companies racing to be first to market with a plant-based source of the longer-chain omega-3s that are currently only available from fish, fungi or microalagae.
Andy Beadle, PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acid) project leader, BASF Plant Science Company, was speaking to NutraIngredients-USA.com after Dow Agrosciences said its joint venture with Martek (DSM) to develop canola oil containing DHA was still “a number of years” away from commercialization.
He said: “We plan to introduce [products] to the market towards the later half of the current decade, once all de-regulation activities have been concluded and successful global approvals to commercialize the products have been obtained.”
BASF: We have demonstrated we can deliver enough EPA/DHA
By inserting genes from algae, BASF had bred canola plants that could produce oil with enough EPA/DHA to meet Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conditions of use to make cardiovascular claims, he claimed.
“We have demonstrated routinely that we can deliver EPA/DHA-containing canola oil that can be readily assimilated into a broad range of food products and at concentrations that will deliver on the existing health and label claims.”
He declined to say who BASF was working with on the project, but noted: “In order to maximise consumer accessibility to this vegetable oil with heart health benefits, and in line with BASF Plant Science's strategy of being ‘the trait technology partner’, we will be partnering with appropriate parts of the canola vegetable oil value chain.”
As for regulatory approvals, work was ongoing, he said. But it was too early to provide a timetable at this stage.
“BASF Plant Science is continuing to work on selecting the plant that will be deregulated and whose oil would meet the regulatory requirements for incorporation in human food products. Once deregulated this EPA/DHA Canola oil will provide the consumer with a convenient and readily accessible source of EPA/DHA in a concentration that will deliver clear heart health benefits.”
Race for plant-based sources of long-chain omega-3s
Currently, only ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), a short-chain omega-3 that is less bioavailable for humans, can be produced from plant sources such as flax.
While long-chain DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is available from microalgae, fish oil remains the primary source of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA, raising concerns about sustainability and cost.
The race has therefore been on to develop more cost-effective and sustainable plant-based sources of EPA and DHA by identifying the genes responsible for producing enzymes which convert shorter chain omega-3 fatty acids found in plants into longer chain ones found in marine sources.
Monsanto: Our focus is on stearidonic acid
While Dow and Martek recently confirmed that work on their bid to develop canola oil with EPA/DHA was progressing well, a spokesman from Monsanto told FoodNavigator-USA.com that it was concentrating on soybeans with high levels of the omega-3 fatty acid stearidonic acid (SDA) instead.
He added: “Our primary focus is bringing SDA soybeans to the market. We think they will bring the optimal omega-3 for food. We look at opportunities that can add incremental value for our farmer customers and our business. As biotech research into omega-3s progresses, we’ll continue to evaluate potential opportunities in the space.
“SDA soybeans provide the desired taste, shelf life and oil stability similar to soybean oil, so it can be easily incorporated into everyday foods.”